Where No Band Has Gone Before

Is a marching band being punished for unsportsmanlike conduct or because a formation meant to represent the starship Enterprise struck some as ribald?

September 10, 2015
Kansas State University
The placement chart for Saturday's halftime drill, showing the U.S.S. Enterprise in battle with the Kansas Jayhawk.

Kansas State University has suspended its marching band director for one game after the band’s members marched in a formation meant to portray the starship Enterprise battling the mascot of the university’s rival, the University of Kansas Jayhawk.

The self-imposed sanctions, which include paying a $5,000 fine to the Big 12 Conference, came after the conference said Saturday’s halftime show possibly violated its “sportsmanship and ethical conduct policies” by depicting a mascot from a team other than the day’s opponent. Kansas State was competing against the University of South Dakota.

Fans and the band’s supporters don’t buy that reasoning, however, saying that the band is actually being punished because its attempt to reproduce the famous Star Trek ship went awry and, to some, resembled male genitalia.

"At Saturday's home football opener Kansas State University fell short of its obligation to conduct itself in a consistent manner with the principles of sportsmanship," Kirk Schulz, Kansas State’s president, said in a statement Tuesday. "Good sportsmanship is part of the Wildcat way; we do not want to do anything that takes away from the tremendous efforts of our student athletes and the award-winning Pride of Wildcat Land marching band."

Sportsmanship has been on Kansas State’s mind of late, following an incident last year when fans rushed the court after defeating the University of Kansas in men’s basketball. Some of the fans were physical with the Kansas team, hip checking a Jayhawk player and trapping the head coach between the throng and the scorer’s table. When Kansas State students bought football tickets this season, they were told to sign “sportsmanship codes of conduct.”

On Saturday, those students filed into the stands to watch the football team play its first home game of the season. At halftime, the marching band took to the field for a space-themed show, featuring elements of both Star Wars and Star Trek. The band split into two groups, forming the shape of a Jayhawk and the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Then they battled, unfurling the team’s respective flags to further illustrate the two sides of the conflict. In the end, the Enterprise destroyed the Jayhawk, the band members scattering like space debris caught on the wrong side of a photon torpedo.  

But that’s not what some in the crowd and watching at home saw. Taking to Twitter and Facebook, viewers said the oblong profile of the Enterprise taking aim at the Jayhawk’s open beak looked like a sexual act. To some, the formation was less Deep Space Nine and more Deep Throat.  

The observation quickly went viral online, and Frank Tracz, the band’s director, released a statement on Sunday clarifying the drill’s intention.

“There was absolutely no intent to display anything other than the Enterprise and the Jayhawk in battle,” Tracz stated, illustrating his point with a chart showing how the formation was meant to look. “If I am guilty of anything it would be the inability to teach the drill in a manner that these young people could have succeeded. I do apologize for the misinterpretation and I assure you that I meant absolutely no disrespect or malice toward the University of Kansas.”

University officials said the punishment against the team has “nothing to do with any perverted social media,” and that it is just in response to the “disintegration of the Jayhawks.” As part of the sanctions, the band will perform without Tracz when Kansas State plays Kansas later this season. All future halftime shows will now require prior approval from the athletics department. The $5,000 fine will be paid by the president’s office, Schulz said.

If not for the debatably phallic nature of the drill, however, the routine was not unlike others performed by college marching bands. Ohio State University’s marching band often mocks its rivals at the University of Michigan, even when the football teams are not competing against each other.   

When playing Pennsylvania State in 2013, the band performed a tribute to Hollywood blockbusters, and in the portion of the show referencing Pirates of the Caribbean, a ship emblazoned with an Ohio State flag sank a ship flying Michigan’s. During a University of Nebraska game, a halftime show devoted to video games featured a nod to the end of a Super Mario Bros. level, in which Michigan’s flag was removed from a castle and replaced with Ohio State’s. A celebration of The Wizard of Oz during a game against the University of Cincinnati last year implied that the Wicked Witch of the West was a Michigan fan.

The Big 12 Conference did not respond when asked whether it has a policy specifically banning teams and their marching bands from taunting teams they aren’t playing.  

Its rule book states that “coaches, student athletes and members of the athletics department staff are prohibited from making public comments that are negative about other member institutions, including, but not limited to, negative comments about the personnel, student athletes, support groups and general matters related to the university, its location, etc.”

Jeffery Morris, vice president of communications and marketing at Kansas State, reiterated on Wednesday that the sanctions are in response to Big 12 leaders contacting the university and saying they were “concerned with the band depicting the Jayhawks” when the two teams were not competing.

“We were kind of surprised,” Morris said. “But at the same time, we want to do what’s best for Kansas State and the conference. There’s been an overall conference emphasis on trying to improve sportsmanship as a general rule, and I would say we are in favor of that. I think that heightened scrutiny means that some things that teams did before are going to be less allowed in the future.”

The band’s supporters are still unhappy with the university’s decision, using Twitter to voice their complaints with the hashtag #FreeFrankTracz and launching a fund-raising effort for the marching band that has taken in more than $10,000. Schulz responded to some of the complaints on his Twitter account, saying that the “last 48 hours were certainly not the most fun I have had as K-State Prez” and that he was forced to block some fans who were getting “too profane or personal.”

The band and its director also have an ally in the leader of the Enterprise himself, William Shatner, who portrayed Captain Kirk in the original Stark Trek television series and films.

 “I think it’s time for the Big 12 Conference leaders to step down and get their eyes checked,” Shatner tweeted on Tuesday. “What a travesty!”


Back to Top